Full 2011 GMC Sierra 3500HD Review
What's New for 2011
The 2011 GMC Sierra 3500HD is nearly identical to its predecessor on the outside, but underneath GMC has added an all-new frame and revised suspension components. Also new are an optional turbocharged diesel engine and a host of electronic driver aids. A new premium Denali trim level has also been added to the mix.
Aside from the few crossover SUVs in its current lineup, GMC is synonymous with trucks. And not compact city trucks, either. We're talking heavy-duty trucks for people who build things. And when it comes to heavy-duty pickups, the 2011 GMC Sierra 3500HD is a standout performer among some very tough competitors.
This year the heavy-duty Sierra receives plenty of improvements to help it keep up with -- and in some instances, prevail over -- its competition. A new frame, which GMC says is considerably more rigid than before, contributes to increased towing and hauling capacities. In addition GMC has bolted in some revised suspension components that give the truck not only more load capacity but also a more comfortable ride.
With these new heavier loads to pull, a new, optional 6.6-liter Duramax turbodiesel enters service with some fairly impressive stats. Output is rated at 397 horsepower and an eye-bulging 765 pound-feet of torque (a jump of 105 lb-ft of torque over last year's turbodiesel). This increase doesn't come at the expense of the environment or pocketbook, either. According to GMC, this new diesel works with a heavy-duty six-speed Allison 1000 transmission to deliver fuel economy that's 11 percent better than the previous diesel powertrain.
On the outside, only a few changes will be apparent to the savvy shopper. A new louvered hood, a revised grille and a chrome front bumper with an opening for added cooling round out the cosmetic changes. Behind the steering wheel, you might notice a smoother ride thanks to more isolation from hydraulic body mounts and a revised independent front suspension with more heavy-duty components yet a pavement-friendly calibration. The new Denali model should be noticed by all, though, as it brings GMC's upscale nameplate and distinctive styling elements to the heavy-duty truck line for the first time.
These changes for the 2011 GMC Sierra 3500HD and its Chevy Silverado twin are meant to keep this GM truck in the game with the newly revised lineup of Ford Super Duty pickups. In terms of towing and hauling capabilities, the 2011 Ford F-350 is in a virtual dead heat with the Sierra (with the GMC winning by only a few hundred pounds), with the 2011 Ram 3500 bringing up the rear. However, in our heavy-duty pickup comparison test, the GMC Sierra 3500 boasted the best all-around performance and felt the most composed while towing a very heavy load, thanks to its more precise steering and arrow-straight tracking.
To be fair, the Ford offers more in the way of work-solution options, while the Dodge earns high marks for its uncommonly upscale interior. None of these choices really represents a winning or losing decision, as each pickup delivers plenty of power and utility. In the end, the choice of the 2011 GMC Sierra 3500HD over the rest will likely come down to personal preference.
Body Styles, Trim Levels, and Options
The 2011 GMC Sierra 3500HD is offered in regular cab, extended cab or crew cab body styles. The regular and extended cabs are only available with a long bed (8 feet), while the crew cabs can also be had in short bed lengths (6.5 feet). Buyers can choose between the conventional single-rear-wheel (SRW) and dual-rear-wheel (DRW) configurations.
Trim levels start at the base Work Truck and climb to the SLE, SLT and new range-topping Denali. The Work Truck trim level includes 17-inch steel wheels, air-conditioning, a trip computer, vinyl floor coverings, a 40/20/40-split front bench with fold-down center armrest, vinyl upholstery, a tilt steering wheel and a four-speaker AM/FM stereo.
Stepping up to the SLE adds 18-inch cast-aluminum wheels (DRWs get 17-inch steel wheels), tinted rear windows, keyless entry, full power accessories, carpeted floor coverings, cloth seats, a leather-wrapped steering wheel, driver-side lumbar adjustments, cruise control, OnStar, satellite radio and a CD/MP3 player. Many of the SLE features are available on the Work Truck as options.
The SLT trim level is only offered on extended and crew cab body styles and augments the SLE's features list by adding foglights, a locking rear differential, a heavy-duty towing package (with integrated trailer brake controller), heated exterior mirrors, dual-zone automatic climate control, an auto-dimming rearview mirror, steering-wheel-mounted cruise and audio controls, remote starting, heated leather front bucket seats with power adjustments, a floor-mounted front center console, Bluetooth and an upgraded Bose stereo system with a USB port. Some of these features are available as options for the SLE.
On top of the SLT features, the Denali will get you a four-bar chrome grille, chrome exterior accents, rear parking sensors, the EZ-lift tailgate, skid plates, power-adjustable pedals and brushed aluminum trim. Most of these features are available on supporting trim levels as options.
Additional options are dependent on trim level and include 20-inch wheels, an aluminum bed extender, a protective bedliner, a sliding or stationary tool box, a cargo rail, a sliding bed divider, a sunroof, power-sliding rear window, a heated steering wheel, heated and cooled leather seats, a navigation system, mobile WiFi, a rear-seat DVD entertainment system and a rearview camera. Four-wheel-drive models can add the Z71 off-road package (includes skid plates and off-road suspension components) and a Snow Plow Prep package.
Powertrains and Performance
The standard power plant for the 2011 GMC Sierra 3500HD is a 6.0-liter V8 engine that produces 360 hp and 380 lb-ft of torque. A six-speed automatic is the only available transmission.
An optional 6.6-liter turbodiesel V8 is surely the engine choice for those who plan on towing or hauling on a regular basis. This new engine produces 397 hp and 765 lb-ft of torque and is mated to a heavy-duty six-speed automatic transmission with manual shift control.
Emissions are cleaner before thanks in part to a urea-injection system. If the diesel exhaust fluid (DEF) runs low, however, vehicle speed will be limited to 55 mpg. If the DEF reservoir is empty, speed is lowered to 40 mph.
Rear-wheel drive is standard for all models and four-wheel drive is optional. The Work Truck 4WD receives a traditional, manually engaged transfer case with a floor-mounted shift lever, while the other trim levels get Autotrac, an electronically controlled transfer case that can engage 4WD automatically when tire slip is detected. Properly equipped, a 2011 GMC Sierra 3500HD can haul up to 6,635 pounds of payload. It can tow up to 17,000 pounds with its standard ball hitch and pull 21,700 pounds with a fifth-wheel connection. To further improve towing, the Duramax V8 turbodiesel incorporates a big-rig-inspired exhaust braking system to improve chassis stability and also reduce brake wear.
In terms of safety, the 2011 GMC Sierra 3500HD features antilock disc brakes, stability control, hill-start control and trailer sway control as standard. Front side and side curtain airbags are available as options, as are power-adjustable pedals, rear parking sensors and a rearview camera.
Interior Design and Special Features
The interior of the 2011 GMC Sierra 3500HD is nearly identical to that of the 2010 model. The base-model Work Truck is the most utilitarian of the trim levels, with vinyl upholstery and floor covering. The SLE offers a more inviting cabin with cloth upholstery and carpeting, although both models come standard with a standard three-person front bench. Opting for the bucket seats will add a center console with storage. The SLT and Denali are the classiest of the bunch, with an interior similar to that of the GMC Yukon SUV.
We found the front seats quite comfortable, though some editors note that the pedals are placed far apart to accommodate work boots and also noted that the tilt-only steering wheel feels too close to the dash. Average-size adults should find the extended cab's rear seats acceptable, but the crew cab is definitely the preferred choice with its roomy rear quarters. The rear doors on extended-cab models swing open a full 170 degrees to allow for easier passenger access as well as cargo loading.
With all of its chassis improvements, the 2011 GMC Sierra 3500HD represents a big step forward for heavy-duty trucks. The stiffer frame permits the use of a stouter front suspension that can handle higher loads, yet improved body isolation and a more refined suspension calibration help smooth out rough roads. Heavy-duty pickups are now comfortable enough to drive every day without regrets.
When stacked up against the Ford F-350 and the Dodge Ram 3500, the Sierra 3500 has a few clear advantages. Superior steering precision compared to the Ford and a smaller turning circle than either rival are readily apparent and appreciated in everyday driving. And when towing a trailer, the GMC V8 turbodiesel accelerates with more authority and climbs grades with less diesel clatter while also delivering superior fuel economy. When descending a grade, the Duramax V8's new exhaust brake works with well-timed downshifts from the transmission to lend an edge in vehicle stability over the Dodge.